WISE – About 200 people from Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee came together Jan. 20 in Wise in order to celebrate the life of prominent civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Organized by UVA Wise’s Black History Month Committee, with help from several sponsors, the event is in its 24th year. One member of the Black History Month Committee said the event “…brings unity and awareness,” to the small town of Wise.
Guest presenters, including Thankful Baptist Church pastor Aaron T. Murphy and the Thankful Baptist Church in Johnson City, Tennessee, and Justin Preston received a warm welcome by the community.
Due to frigid temperatures, some chose to skip the march down Main Street and carpool to the First Church of God from the commemorative dinner at Wise Baptist Church. The freezing weather, however, did not break anyone’s spirits.
Bundled up, crowds filed into the small church with smiles on their faces, church staff warmly greeting each passing individual. Laughter filled the worship room and the lobby was adorned with artwork featuring King and made by children of the community. The mood mirrored the event’s theme: beloved community.
UVA Black History Month Committee member Brittanie Jones and Rev. Beth Tipton, UVA Wise academic affairs vice chancellor Mark Clark, Church of God Rev. Ben Murphy and Wise Vice Mayor Teresa Adkins welcomed the audience to the evening service
The Thankful Baptist Church choir added to each speaker’s theme with a song, including “Going up Yonder,”.
Justin Preston gave the event’s traditional rendition of King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream”speech
Murphy followed with a sermon on King’s history and legacy, God’s love, progress toward racial equality, and the challenges facing full equality. He cited the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, police brutality, the prison industrial complex and the need for unification as a community regardless of race.
“We must mobilize together as one people,” Murphy said. “We can no longer turn a blind eye.” He received a standing ovation from the crowd.
The ceremony ended with one final song, the crowd singing along hand in hand with one another before leaving the church with hugs and goodbyes.